People move around from job to job and company to company all the time. In fact, these days it no longer seems common or fashionable for someone to begin and end their career with one company. But it's also a two-way street: There no longer seems to be that sense of loyalty between employer and employee that existed some 40-plus years ago.
That said, for some reason when a co-founder or individual who helped start a company ends up leaving, either on their own or when they're forced out, the news always seems to raise a red flag. There doesn't always have to have a juicy story attached to it, but it still tends to raise eyebrows and gets people talking.
In the case of VMware, believe it or not, it's been two years since what I'll call the company's D-Day - put another way, it's been a whole two years since the VMware board of directors made its 2008 landmark decision to remove the company's co-founder Diane Greene from her seat of power as VMware's CEO after 10 years of service.
That departure came with a juicy story and raised eyebrows in the media and virtualisation community - or at the very least, raised a lot of juicy questions as to the "why" of the matter. But what makes Greene's departure even more noteworthy is she is just one of four co-founders who have left the company. Five people started VMware back in 1998, and while the technology was considered cool and interesting, it certainly didn't have the following that it has today. Few thought the company would ever become a 900-pound gorilla. I'm not even sure folks gave it much possibility of becoming a chimpanzee. With only 20 to 30 people in the company at that time and a single workstation desktop-class virtualisation platform to offer the market, VMware was very much a startup with little notion of becoming the billion-dollar company it is today.
But these five founders were definitely on to something, as history has proven, so much so that I think it's safe to declare VMware's co-founders as the "Fab Five of virtualisation."
In 1998 virtualisation moved from the mainframe to the x86-based computer thanks to VMware and the Fab Five: the president and CEO, Diane Greene; her husband and the company's chief scientist, Dr. Mendel Rosenblum; a friend from the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Edward Wang; and a pair of Rosenblum's Stanford University graduate students, Edouard Bugnion and Scott Devine.
Four of the five have since left the company in one way or another. For the most part, each has kept a relatively low profile following their departures. Not to sound like a VH1 special, but where are they now?
Stanford graduate student Scott Devine is still with VMware and currently serves as a principal engineer. The other graduate student, Edouard Bugnion, was the first co-founder to leave the hallowed halls of VMware. After reaching the level of CTO, Bugnion left VMware in 2004 - the same year as the EMC acquisition - to co-found and serve as CTO at a new company called Nuova Systems, which was later acquired by Cisco in April 2008. Nuova has become Cisco's Server Access and Virtualisation technology group, and Bugnion continues to serve at Cisco as that group's CTO. He has been in the news as of late helping to promote Cisco's virtualisation play with its Unified Computing System (UCS) while working with VMware, Red Hat, and others.
Diane Greene, arguably the most visible and recognised name of the bunch, was removed from her position and forced out of the company on July 8, 2008, and replaced as CEO with Microsoft veteran Paul Maritz. Greene remained quiet for quite some time, but her name recently resurfaced in the virtualisation world as an investor in a startup company called Nicira. Like VMware, Nicira was founded by research leaders from Stanford and Berkeley, but rather than virtualise the physical server, this new company plans to transform the cloud by virtualising the network. Greene's role in this company appears to go no further than investor and advisor at this point. She also holds a board seat with yet another cloud technology startup: Nimbula, an automated cloud management system that delivers Amazon EC2-like services behind the firewall.
Greene's husband, Dr. Mendel Rosenblum, is considered by many to be the father of VMware. He resigned from his post as VMware's chief scientist two months after his wife's departure. While Greene led the business side, Rosenblum led the company's vision and technology road map. Upon leaving VMware, Rosenblum returned to Stanford University where he remains today as a computer science professor.
Edward Wang attended graduate school at UC Berkeley with both Rosenblum and Greene. Prior to co-founding VMware, he worked with Greene in 1996 and 1997 at another company called VXtreme, later acquired by Microsoft. Wang was a member of VMware's technical staff, responsible for designing and implementing various portions of their main product, and attained the title of principal engineer. Wang left VMware in 2009 and has seemingly kept a very low profile.
Whether VMware is better off without its Fab Five could probably be effectively debated by either side, but you'd be hard-pressed to deny the success that VMware has been having of late. A lot of that success -- quite possibly
most of it -- has a lot to do with the solid foundation these five individuals created for this new generation of VMware employees and executives.
Two years have now passed since Greene's departure, and Maritz has been in complete control of the helm. The company has expanded further into the cloud and desktop markets, thanks to some key acquisitions and newly created technologies. The company has also lost and hired many people along the way since the power change.
Any notion of Team Greene versus Team Maritz seems all but dead now, at least from the outside looking in. But one does have to wonder what the old regime of workers might be thinking at this two-year reflection point.